Below are some of the things I do when I am at home with my one-year-old. These are things that you can do with your toddler in your house or apartment. We are currently in our apartment with my 1-year-old toddler so we don’t have outdoor space and cannot play for hours in a yard (Oh how I wish we could!) but nevertheless I have found lots of activities that keep us occupied.
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Whenever the weather has permitted, we have been going out on walks. Added benefit: it’s good for YOUR mental and physical health too. My daughter enjoys riding in her stroller, but she also has a push car she enjoys riding in. You can also let your toddler walk with you, and pick up random treasures that they find.
Water Table and Outdoor Play
If you have a backyard space, there are so many activities you can do! You can have open-ended play and let them explore your yard, but there are also structures and toys that you can provide. You can get a swingset, a play structure, a slide, balls to kick, throw, and chase, vehicles to ride and push, a splash pad, small pool, or a water table.
At our apartment, we do not have backyard space but we have a small grass area in our apartment complex. I bought a water table that we keep in our garage and I pull it out some days for my one-year-old to play with in the shared space. A water table is entertaining for toddlers because there are lots of splashing, pouring, and exploring that can be done. It has already entertained my daughter for hours. You can add boats, squirt toys, and they will inevitably throw grass, leaves, flowers, etc in as they explore how it works.
We have this ball pit and my daughter loved it starting around 9 months old. We put it away when she got a push car and stroller for Christmas due to limited space. However, it sits in a storage bag in her closet and she pulled it out this week to play with the balls so I set it up for her and she enjoyed playing in it again.
My daughter loves her baby dolls and has recently been including them in all of her activities. She shares her sippy cup with them, shares her snacks with them, and now they open the pages of her books when we read together. She also loves her Little People farm and house sets. We make animal noises, and they travel around the living room daily. For her first birthday, her grandmother also bought her a play kitchen that she enjoys “cooking” in.
We read books several times a day (they’re usually covering our living room floor). She loves her Pooh Bear books, but also lift-the-flap books and pop-up books. We act out Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe. See my tips for reading to baby here and our favorite lift-the-flap books here. (Bonus tip: spice racks are a great size to hold board books as shelves hung on the wall at toddler-height).
Puzzles and shape sorters
We are starting to work on puzzles and shape sorter toys. She’s had them for months, but is starting to grasp that certain things only go in certain places. She can do her Pooh Bear puzzle and match the characters to their corresponding spots. Last week we started working on her shape sorter. I started pointing out which hole to place each shape into, and this week she has started placing some of them into the right spot herself.
I bought these special crayons (called “finger crayons”) that are supposed to be easier for toddlers to hold, and have been gradually introducing them to her. She learned that if she puts them in her mouth, they get put away. Her favorite thing to do with them is to stack them, but she will color a little bit too when we pull them out.
There are also these water coloring books so that color only turns up when your toddler colors in the book. The color is activated by water, so it cannot stain any other surfaces that get colored on.
Stickers or Reusable Sticker Pads
Lily enjoys putting stickers on paper and once my stash of old/free stickers runs out, I plan on buying these reusable sticker pads. I have seen several moms recommend them and I don’t want to spend money on stickers that will be used once.
When my daughter seems to be getting bored with all her toys, I start putting her toys away in their bins and shelves. She tends to help me, which is entertainment for a little bit, and sometimes we discover a toy she wants to play with. When we’re done cleaning up, she likes to immediately take everything back out again, but she is engaged and entertained again, so mission accomplished. I talk about this more here.
Livestream an Aquarium or Zoo
I have recently begun livestreaming the National Aquarium onto our TV and she enjoys watching the fish. This is the link to their livestream: https://www.aqua.org/Experience/live#pcr I know other zoos and aquariums have livestreams as well, but this one worked best for us. Monterey Bay Aquarium also has a few livestreams from 7am-7pm PST: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIm4vB8IzI6AIVhsVkCh2UEQEzEAAYASAAEgKbFfD_BwE
Do not feel guilty, mama, to let your toddler watch TV and movies. If you need to do it for your mental health, by all means, go for it. I am currently pregnant, and by the late afternoon, I’m tired and irritable so we have been watching Winnie the Pooh almost every day (so thankful for Disney+). We also enjoy Daniel Tiger (I find it very sweet, innocent, and that it teaches useful life lessons) on Amazon Prime. When the movie’s over, we have dinner and play with Dad for a little bit before bath and bedtime. I try not to do it every day, but better to watch a movie than to have Mama yelling.